Monday, September 11, 2006

What Time Is It, Anyway?

Here I am in the world's newest nation, East Timor. I am staying at the Dili Beach Hotel right next to Castaways, THE spot for ex-pats. The electricity goes in and out and my bedroom feels strangely closed-in as it doesn't have a window but I was so tired last night I slept like a Timorese rock anyway.

The mountains, the palm trees, the water - it's all spectacularly beautiful. But the abject poverty and the scars of recent violence are all around. Torched-out cars litter the streets. IDP camps are everywhere.

IDP stands for internally displaced person, so it's like the term refugee except that a refugee flees to a different country. These people have been burned out of their homes or they just don't feel it's safe to go back. They live in these white tents that are the shape of a cylinder cut in half lengthwise. They are fire-proof (important as some IDP camps have had molotov cocktails thrown in and there is a lot of arson during moments of unrest) but no one knows what will happen when they are flooded during the rainy season which begins in one month.

The IDP camps sprung up after the violence that erupted in April of this year. People fled their homes to areas they perceived to be safe (church, the airport, the CARE compound, schools) and the camps stayed put. NGOs like CARE support the management of them but they are essentially run by whoever was in charge of the location when the people arrived (church pastor, nuns, or Gabby the Swiss art teacher I met at Castaways last night - her school has been housing several hundred IDPs for months). The problem is that some places don't have a natural leader (i.e. the airport) and that can lead to problems as the camps are obviously stressful, tense and cramped situations.

I've just gotten a crash course in the politics of the region. It is extremely complicated. The Timorese folks in the room must think I'm doing facial exercises as I get all scrunched up trying to get my brain to chug along and understand all the factions and alliances.

There are so many resentments that have built up over the years here. Currently it seems that there is a lot of hostility between the easterners and westerners (all within East Timor - NOT East Timor vs West Timor, which is a part of Indonesia). It's an issue that goes back to when the Portuguese ruled (Portugal colonized this area while the Dutch colonized Indonesia). There seems to be some classic issues of the colonizers pitting the easterners against the west by characterizing them as being different.

But also, there's a history of recent violence here. When East Timor won their independence from Indonesia in 1999, there was a month of terrorizing and destruction, with arson all over and the dismantling of electrical wires - basically, everything got shut down. It sounds pretty awful.

I really can't pretend to know too much about the situation but it is really interesting to hear about. It's a story that is unfolding and we've been plunked into the middle of it as the violence and displacement doesn't seem to have an end in sight. Lots of people are looking forward to the election next May but the rainy season happens first and all I can think about are these tents. When I first laid eyes on them, my heart sank and I thought, "This is where people live?" A travelling partner from CARE, Aly-Khan (he has seen the world!!) remarked, "Ooh, these are nice tents!" And he has been in plenty of refugee camps. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

This morning we shot some stuff regarding the Lafaek magazine. "Lafaek" means crocodile. Lafaek magazine is for students and every child in East Timor receives on. It is actually the only classroom reading material they have in Tetum (one of the national languages, it is a mix of Portugese and indigenous languages - Portugese is the other official language).

I asked what the significance of the crocodile is and I was told a beautiful creation myth. The story goes that there was a little boy drowning in the water and a crocodile swam up under him and the boy rode along on his back. Then when the crocodile died, he turned into rock and is now the island of East and West Timor. Look it up on a map! It really looks like a crocodile!

Outside the CARE compound, a bunch of dreadlocked young artists are sketching out a graffiti mural along a long wall. Their shirts are band-related or they have scary faces on them - so teenage, so male. I get a kick out of their style because it's so familiar. These guys are the age of the youth gangs who go out and cause havoc at night. I'm looking forward to asking them lots of questions.

Whew. I guess that's all for now although I'm really sorry that I don't have any pictures for you. Is this totally boring? I promise that when I'm able, I will deluge you with tons of photos. In the meantime, I've been getting emails about your lives in Toronto and I love hearing about the film festival and random goings-on. Borat? Michael Moore? Shortbus? It reminds me of the things that I love doing most back home. It also gets me a little weirded out at how different my life is from where it was exactly one year ago, pedalling home from the Guy Ritchie red carpet crying on my bike because the pushy guy from People shoved me and I couldn't get a clip from Madonna. Or scoring extra tickets to the premieres at the Elgin, or running into Charlize Theron at the Four Seasons and interviewing Johnny Depp. All that hullaballoo. Being here doesn't make me think it's any less exciting or worthwhile - it's just surreal to think about what can get your adrenaline going and how different those situations can be.

So if you have film fest or V-fest stories, I want to hear them. Emaaaaailllll meeeeeee. Or else all I'll have for entertainment is watching boars roam the streets and figuring out the percentage of clocks that show the wrong time here (100% - done - so now I only have one activity for spare time).


Blogger Mannyg said...

Your entries have been amazing so far. Having no pics leaves a lot to the imagination actually.

I'll email you a few v-fest/TIFF stories but don't fret-you're not missing that much.

Your blog puts my blog to shame. I haven't put in a entry in about a month :(

Ok be safe. Can't wait until you get back. We'll all have to grab some food and chat the night away.


11:57 PM  

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